PHDA 04 - Spatial Epidemiology and Outbreak Detection

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Next course delivery: September to December 2018
This course is now available to individuals residing outside of Canada. Please contact Program Coordinator, Maxine Reitsma at or 250-721-8481 for more information.

Course description

This course provides an introduction to methods in spatial epidemiology and outbreak detection. The focus is on application rather than theory: this is not a course in spatial statistics.

The course is structured sequentially to move from spatial exploration of health data, to quantifying spatial patterns and clusters, to spatial exposure assessment and, finally, to methods for assessing risk.

Broadly, the spatial epidemiology part of the course focuses on:

  • assessing exposures through the use of a geographical information system (GIS)
  • conducting small area health studies (ecological models)
  • incorporating spatial parameters into models for individual health analyses.

The outbreak detection part of the course focuses on visualization of spatial data, disease surveillance and the use of spatial scan statistics in cluster detection.


Learning objectives

  • Recognize when—and why—a spatial approach is required and the assumptions, strengths, limitations, and interpretations of different spatial methods used in health research.
  • Identify geospatial technologies and methods for epidemiology and cluster detection.
  • Choose an appropriate study design to address a specific spatial epidemiological question.
  • Visualize patterns of health and disease in place and time.
  • Analyze clusters and diffusion of disease to identify outbreaks.
  • Conduct small area and individual spatial epidemiology studies.
  • Critically interpret spatial epidemiology and outbreak detection methods.
  • Apply spatial epidemiology and outbreak detection methods to various population health research questions.


Admission to the PSC in Population Health Data Analysis or permission of the Faculty Advisor.

Epidemiological Statistics (PHDA02) and Population Health and Geographic Information Systems (PHDA03) or proven proficiency in both areas.


Instructor: Anders Erickson

Anders Erickson recently obtained his PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies with the Division of Medical Sciences & Department of Geography at the University of Victoria. His research interests are varied, but predominantly focus on the spatial and environmental epidemiology of reproductive health, the social determinants of health and gene-environment interactions. His PhD project used small area spatial and multilevel analyses to model the risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes such as low birth weight and gestational diabetes relating to air pollution exposure and its possible interaction with social factors. Anders has consulted on several other research projects and government contracts regarding biostatistics, epidemiology and GIS mapping.


This course is offered in partnership with the Division of Continuing Studies and Department of Geography at the University of Victoria.


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Page last revised: October 19, 2016